Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Waiting for Death

One of my underlying sayings for life is to choose and celebrate life. 

In doing so, I find it is a positioning of myself toward God to embrace and walk fully into what is before me and to be able to stop in awe and wonder at who God is as reflected in the world around me.

Recently I came to the realization however, that I have been waiting for death and positioning myself toward it.

It's been a difficult season sorting through the myriad of emotions that accompany caring for someone with a terminal illness, especially when it is your mom.

When I first moved back to BC last July, my mom was going rapidly downhill and there were a couple weekends where she told us this was it, she was ready to go and wanted to say her goodbyes. Every day was filled with the tension of whether or not this would be my last moment with my mom, my last memory. There were moments in the middle of the night where I would peek up from where I was sleeping on the floor and breathe a sigh of relief that she was still breathing. Every hug, good-bye or 'I love you' was potentially the last and so I treasured each one. Every action I took was preparation toward her upcoming death. My entire life was on hold as I waited for her to die.

Although she still has terminal cancer, a year and a half has passed and she is doing leaps and bounds better than she was before. For now she's stable and despite having bad days, can still do some of the things she loves, like cooking, canning or decorating.

A year and a half later and I am still positioned in a place of waiting for death. Now I say that with hesitation, because there is still a reality that she is dying and I do not want to be ignorant of this fact. But in the process I recognize where I have stopped living in many ways and tried to stop her from living. Hope has continually showed itself and I have ignored it.

My mom loves Christmas (as do I) and every year she goes all out with decorating her house. Over a number of years, she has collected ornaments and trees and has a variety of themed trees throughout our house every Christmas. Last year (along with the help of some amazing friends) I tried to decorate a bunch of them as she wasn't well enough to and although there were decorated Christmas trees it wasn't quite the same as the love and detail she poured into each tree. This year, I came home from Portland and the front entrance was ready for Christmas. It was an area that I wasn't able to decorate last year because positioning 200 white owls on a tree and hanging shiny balls from the railing is not a gifting of mine. But she spent time decorating it this year and it is beautiful. And it speaks of life, love and hope.

There have been times where I have tried to stop her from buying new Christmas decorations, because my thinking is 'what's the point?'... but daily she teaches me what it means to choose life and to embody hope in the face of death. Rather than surrendering to her prognosis, waiting for it to happen, she has been living fully in the waiting time and the unknown. Rather than succumbing to fear, she has loved deeper. She is making the most of every day she has with whatever energy and strength she can muster.

Yes, death is a reality. There are things that must be prepared for and it needs to be embraced as part of life. But a greater reality is the hope we have and this gives great reason for celebration. This is great reason to live more fully. This is great reason not to get stuck in the muck and mire of death - there is a tension to be embraced. I tend to get stuck in either/or rather than recognizing that there is life that encompasses it all. I tend to get overwhelmed with the questions and my own cynicism. There have been times where I have been too consumed with sadness over losing my mom that I fail to make the most of the fact that she is still here and we can enjoy the time we have together. There are times when I want to shut down and put up walls to prepare myself, but I realize I don't want to miss out on what the present is offering.

So every time I see a Christmas tree, I am reminded of choosing life. Of a love that is greater than I can comprehend. Of the hope we have in this life and beyond death. I have said it many times before, and probably will many times in the future, but I will say it again, L'Chaim - To Life!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Mountains and Waterfalls

 Just spent a couple weeks in Portland for school. The days are always pretty intense but I'm always thankful for a couple days off in between to go explore the area. Generally I like to take my camera with me and just capture God's beauty in creation. So, since a picture is worth a thousand words, here's a few pictures from Multnomah Falls and Mt. Hood. Enjoy.

"The heavens are telling of the glory of God
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands"
Psalm 19:1

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

There is More

Some days I want to run away and hide from life.

Sometimes this happens in a literal sense of me going away and at other times there is great temptation to disengage and find various means to mindlessly pass the time.

I have a tendency to withdraw. When something appears as a threat or there is uncertainty or confusion, I back off and put up walls.

There are so many wonderful things about life and yet sometimes the pain and potential hurt of life seems too much and in turn I give it all up and fail to engage.

 On the days when I feel weary and feeling done, I am reminded that there is more.

One of my favourite books has always been 'The Giver' by Lois Lowry. It is a book (and now a movie) about a society that no longer wants to experience pain and suffering and so they create an environment that is free from choice (because if you have choice, you can choose badly and hurt others), an environment where everyone is equal and nobody truly has feelings.

It is a world void of love.
A world void of colour.
A world void of family.
A world void of music.
A world void of dancing.
A world void of death. 
A world void of life.

In this black and white world, individuals are assigned jobs, a partner and children. They must follow the rules and use precision of language. It is all very uniform and static.

Jonas is a young man who is selected to become the Receiver of Memory. There is an elder in town (the Giver) who holds all the memories and it is his job to pass the memories onto Jonas. Jonas has only known a world of black and white, with no emotions, no drastic ups or downs.

As Jonas receives the memories, he starts to see the world in colour. He begins to feel and understand true feelings. He is dazzled by the memory of a beautiful sunset and the experience of snow. He is burdened by memories of war and death. He tries to describe this life to his peers (in the movie) and the conclusion is that there is more.

There is more than the black and white life they have been living.
There is more than the surface, pleasant feelings they have toward one another.
There is a deeper sense of belonging to be had within a family and a home.
There is incredible beauty to marvel at in awe and wonder.
There is deep joy to be felt to the core of one's being.
There are feelings that move you in the way that word cannot articulate.
There is pain deeper than words can describe.
And in it all, there is life.

In speaking of the control that their society has gained, the book says, "We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others." Cutting out pain was possible, and yet it came at great cost.

Jonas recognized the pain, joy and privilege of being alive. At one point, he proclaims, "if you can't feel, what's the point?"

 So, when I am tempted to run from pain, hurt, disappointment, miscommunication, confusion, angst... I have to remember that there is more. A life disengaged is not the life that God intended for me.

I still live in a world of colour where there are lots of feelings and other things to sort through, but it is so easy to numb all of it and float through.

I'm reminded of the Israelites right before they enter the Promised Land. What lies before them are giants, fortified cities and many battles to fight in order to live in the land that has been promised to them. There are moments when they want to give up, turn around and go back to Egypt. Back to slavery. Back to oppression. And yet God longs for them to live fully into what He has placed before them. He gives them commandments so that it may go well for them in the land. But he gives them a choice.

The choice here seems obvious. Choose life. Choose God. And yet...

There are some days when I want to deny any emotions I am feeling and pretend things are all good.
There are some days when I want to play games on my phone all day and ignore what I'm feeling.
There are some days when I want to avoid interactions with others to avoid getting hurt.
There are some days I want to quote theological platitudes to myself rather than wrestling with the questions and uncertainty.
There are some days when I want to numb and sooth myself with food rather than look at the deeper things happening within. 
There are some days I want to ignore that my mom is dying and cover up the pain.
There are some days I want to move to a cottage in the woods and live by myself.

And yet, if (and perhaps when) I make these choices, the cost is great. At times my actions and words and avoidance reduces my world to black and white and I miss out. In death, in life, there is more. I need to embrace it, engage it and walk through it and continue marveling at the colours and the complexities of life.

This is the reality I need to live into today. Every moment. Every day.

There is more. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Dreams Come True in Disneyland

Most who know me are well aware of my love for Disneyland. Over the years I have gone on different trips there with friends and have loved every minute of it. 

I love the atmosphere, the rides, the lights, the magic, the characters, the food, the warm temperatures. It is a place of pure joy and fun (besides all the screaming and crying children of course). 

Growing up we would go to Disneyland as a family during trips to Palm Springs. Since my childhood, I have just gone with other adults.

A few weeks ago, we got to go to Disneyland again as a family. Even writing that sentence brings tears to my eyes as my heart overflows with gratitude. 

As I planned this trip (with a week's notice), I was overwhelmed with this thought:

A year ago we were planning my mom's funeral, and now I'm planning a family trip to Disneyland. 

Breakfast in the Plaza with Minnie and friends

 I am so thankful for the miracle of my mom living much longer than expected and for the fact that she was still well enough to take her kids and grandkids to Disneyland, something she had been dreaming about and hoping for.

It was a whirlwind of a week trying to book, plan and prepare for the trip, but the week flew by and off we went!

And it was indeed magical.

A place where dreams come true. Dreams of my family being together, having fun and sharing in our delight.

How wonderful it was to see my mom's joy in watching the kids' delight and wonder as they experienced everything for the first time.

To watch the kids dancing up a storm on the sidewalk anytime music was playing or there was a parade passing by.

To have babies falling asleep in laps and nuzzling their heads into you when a ride was a bit scary.

To get onto all the rides faster because you had a wheelchair.

To enjoy moments when one child would yell "That's the princess on my underwear!" or "HI MINNIE!" or when they would freak out to any of the fuzzy life-sized characters.

 Even amidst the sporadic cries or breakdowns from being too tired, each moment was a delight and a reminder of how much I love my family and a reminder to enjoy every moment of every day that I have with them.


Going to Disneyland with kids was a first for me and it was so much fun to take it all in through their eyes and to be able to share the newness of it with them. Usually we race from ride to ride trying to cram in as much as possible. Being with kids gave opportunity to slow down and take it all in and cherish the little moments. 

Trying to contain his excitement of hanging out with Minnie

 So, although we are in this strange in between waiting time, with no idea of how the future will unfold (then again, perhaps all of life is like that, we just aren't always mindful of it), I am thankful for the moments of being together and enjoying one another.

 I was so thankful too that my mom had no pain and lots of energy during our days in the park- how wonderful to be able to fully enjoy it!

 So, whether at Disneyland, or cooking supper at home with my mom, or waiting long hours in the hospital for appointments and tests, I am continually reminding myself to enjoy and cherish every moment and to not take any of them for granted.

My meager words cannot fully express how full my  heart is when I reflect on these things. Even through the long and hard days, I am grateful beyond measure and want to continue to treasure these things in my heart.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Life in the Fog

I love taking pictures and I happen to take a lot of them. 

For those who know me, or those who follow me on social media, this statement would likely not come as a shocking one. (It might however serve to annoy those who might think I post too many photos! But I will not apologize for that one..)

This year I have been reading/working through a book called 'Eyes of the Heart', which looks at photography as a contemplative prayer practice. It has been transformational in my photography, the way I see and interact with the world around me, with my understanding of myself and in my relationship with God.

It has been a wonderful practice to receive images from God and to take time each week to spend time outside with my camera, prayerfully waiting for what God will speak to me through the photos I take. I am thankful that God is not limited to one way of communicating and that God will speak through things that we love that will connect us with God in a deeper way than we imagined possible.

It has taken me awhile to realize this one, but on a recent trip down the Oregon coast, it struck me that God has been giving me a lot of images with fog in them. I suppose that would mean I have been to some really beautiful places and there has been a lot of fog actually present. On a recent roadtrip in Quebec in May and also in some of my weekly photography times, fog has been a clear theme.

While driving in Oregon, we would be surrounded by beautiful blue sky and then we would turn on a road that would lead us to the ocean, and the closer we got, the foggier it became. At first I was a bit disappointed, because beautiful scenery is often accented by brilliant blue skies. But as I started taking pictures and playing with different settings on my camera, I realized that foggy scenes are just as beautiful in a completely different way.

Fog adds an element of mystery and wonder. You know there is something beautiful and majestic in sight, and yet you can only catch a glimpse of it. You can only see so far and as you walk further, new things become revealed as you enter the fog.

Fog is giving me a new way of seeing things.

All the same things are still there that would be present on a clear, sunny day, except I get something extra with the fog.

Sometimes with the fog comes dampness and wind. It can be exhilarating and serve as a reminder of being alive. 

And when light shines through fog it does wonderful things. It spreads out the sunlight in a different way and for me becomes a symbol of hope and life.

This past year, I feel like I have been living my life in the fog. Firstly I am shocked that I am still in this place and that I have no idea how long it will go on for or what lies just up ahead.

There is lack of clarity in the fog and lack of my own understanding of purpose. I catch glimpses of what is happening, but don't see it in full.

Yet it is still beautiful.

I can still trust.

There is great hope.

This past year I have seen life in a way that I had not before. I have tamed down and slowed down from my previously crazy life (although some might argue that it is still slightly crazy). The fog has forced me to slow down. It has given me opportunity to notice and enjoy things I would have previously missed.

This year has taken me down a path I would never have imagined for myself and I know that God will continue to guide me in new territories, even when I have no idea why it's happening or what's coming next. I will not let the fog spoil things, but will find new ways to interact with it and new ways to see it. For now I will embrace the beauty and marvel in God's presence in the midst of the fog.

Lighthouses are useful in fog and the combination of the lighthouse and fog has been of significant meaning to me of late. On the trip down the Oregon coast, we drove into a state park, excited to see the lighthouse. It was a beautiful day and about a kilometer away from the lighthouse, suddenly we entered a dense fog. The sun was setting behind the lighthouse but was such a symbol of hope and life to me in the midst of confusion and lack of understanding.

One of my favourite songs this year has been 'My Lighthouse' by Rend Collective.  I had heard it just before traveling to Oregon back in February. I didn't quite know all the words yet (then again, it is rare that I ever know the proper words to any song), but as I stood in the Pacific ocean in February, in the wind, rain and fog, I sang it to myself as I was trying to coax myself to jump into the frigid water.

I can jump into the cold water in the midst of the fog, trusting that God is my guide, my refuge and my lighthouse. I leave you with my favourite lighthouse picture and the lyrics to one of my favourite songs:

My Lighthouse - by Rend Collective

In my wrestling and in my doubts
In my failures You won't walk out
Your great love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea

In the silence, You won't let go
In my questions, Your truth will hold
Your great love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea

My Lighthouse, my lighthouse
Shining in the darkness, I will follow You
My Lighthouse, my Lighthouse
I will trust the promise,
You will carry me safe to shore 

I won't fear what tomorrow brings
With each morning I'll rise and sing
My God's love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea

Fire before us, You're the brightest
You will lead us through the storms